India's third largest and third most popular state, Maharashtra, lies on the west coast of India. Providing more than 20 per cent of the value of India's industrial output, nit is among the most economically important states.
Its history goes back nearly 2500 years. Numerous Buddhist and Hindu rock-cut caves lie scattered across the land. In more recent times, it was the domain of the Marathas whose legendary hero, Shiva ji, challenged the might of the Mughals in the seventh century. To suit the hurly-burly of his guerrilla warfare, Maratha women modified the 'sari' to nine yards from the traditional six, wearing it to look like pants. This distinctive and unique style is still retained.
Today Shivaji's many forts, built on steep precipitous hills of the Deccan plateaus-Purandhar, Raigarh, Pratapgarh, Sinhgarh and many more, stand in mute testimony to his valorous exploits. Sinhgarh is twenty kilometers from Pune, the second largest city in the state. This is where Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned after launching the Quit India Movement in 1942, but today it is famous for the Osho Commune, the ashram of Bhagwan Rajneesh.
The holy city, Nashik, lies on the banks of the Godavari river about 195-kilometres north-east of the capital, Mumbai. With bathing ghats and temples lining the river banks, this is bone of the four cities where the Kumbh Mela is held every twelve years.
About 400 kilometers eastward of Mumbai, is Aurangabad, the most convenient base for seeing India's timeless art at the renowned Ajanta and Ellora, both on the UNESCO's World Heritage List. The thirty caves at Ajanta, chiselled out of rock by Buddhist monks between 200 BC and 650 AD as chaityas (chapels)and viharas (monasteries), contain magnificent sculptures and frescoes. At Ellora are thirty-four Buddhist, Hindu and Jain rock temples carved top downwards from a two-kilometre escarpment between 350 AD and 700 AD and decorated with a profusion of sculptures. These includes the Kailasa Temple, the largest monolithic sculpture of the world, covered with a variety of finely carved panels, with entailed removing of some 200,000 tones of rocks!
The hills Western Ghats run parallel to the coast and are dotted with hill stations- Matheran, Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani and many more. And in the narrow plains, between the Ghats and the Arabian Sea, are a number of pristine unfrequented beaches notably at Kashid, Malvan and Ganapatipule.